The period between 2010 and 2019 was a difficult one for Manchester United. While arch-rivals Liverpool and Manchester City soared to great heights, the Red Devils found themselves in an endless circle of rebuild.
Manchester United won just a solitary Premier League title during this period, while there was also the Europa League success along with a couple of domestic cups. Transfers haven’t always hit the mark during the last decade, with chief executive Ed Woodward, who handled the incomings and outcomings since 2013, widely criticized and ridiculed for the job he had done.
Yet, there have been a handful of success stories with signings and here we take a look at five of the best signings that the 20-time English champions made between 2010 and 2019.
David de Gea
When Sir Alex Ferguson goes on a personal scouting mission skipping his team’s match, one should get an inkling that the player being watched must be a special talent. And that is what happened in the case of David de Gea. Signed from Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2011 for a fee of £18.9 million, de Gea was brought in as the long-term replacement for club legend Edwin van der Sar.
But the Spaniard endured a rocky first season in England with his lack of physicality being targeted by opposition teams repeatedly. The next season though, de Gea played a key role in United’s title triumph and there has been no looking back ever since. The 29-year-old has racked up close to 400 appearances for the club till date, growing into one of the best goalkeepers in the game along the way.
De Gea has won the club’s Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award on four occasions, has been named the club’s Players’ Player of the Year thrice and has won a Golden Glove as well. Last season saw a bit of decline in form, but the Manchester United No. 1 has come back strongly and continues to be a pivotal player for the Red Devils.
Robin van Persie
After getting beaten to the Premier League title in 2011-12 by rivals Manchester City on the final matchday, Sir Alex set out on a mission to add another weapon to his attacking arsenal. And in came Robin van Persie from Arsenal, after having had a whirlwind season during which he had finished as the league’s top scorer.
And it turned out to be a masterstroke by Ferguson as van Persie set about on a mission to bring back the Premier League trophy to Old Trafford, banging in goals left, right and centre. The sensational volley from the edge of the box against Aston Villa on the day that the title triumph was confirmed for United will remain long etched in the memories of the Red Devils’ supporters.
Van Persie duly delivered title no. 20 to Manchester United in his first season, scoring 30 goals along the way. But Ferguson’s retirement in the aftermath seemed to have an adverse effect on his stint at the club. The Flying Dutchman never really reached the same heights under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal and ended up leaving in 2015 after having scored 58 goals in 105 games for the club. His stint may have been short, but the £24 million that United paid for van Persie seems like a bargain.
One of the signings of David Moyes’ short and forgettable stint at Old Trafford, Juan Mata arrived at Manchester United from rivals Chelsea in January 2014, after having been deemed surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge by Jose Mourinho.
The Spaniard may not have reached the same heights as he did at Chelsea, but the fact that he has survived three managerial changes and has been an important player of the squad along the way makes him a worthy inclusion in this list. Mata is just one-match shy of 250 appearances for Manchester United and has scored 48 goals for the club, including a memorable bicycle kick against bitter rivals Liverpool at Anfield.
Mata has often had to deal with being in and out of the side, but every time he has come back stronger and has contributed with some important goals for the club along the way, while also taking up a senior leadership role, helping out the youngsters and the newcomers in the squad.
The Frenchman signed for Manchester United from AS Monaco on the transfer deadline day in 2015, for a fee that could rise up to £58m with bonuses, which made him the world’s most expensive teenager at the time. And when Martial scored his first goal for United, against Liverpool, on his debut, the investment already seemed worth it.
Martial finished his first season at Old Trafford as the top scorer, but the arrival of Jose Mourinho the subsequent season saw his form dip. Following that, the 24-year-old endured a couple of inconsistent campaigns, although there were quite a few performances during that period showcasing the potential he possessed.
The Frenchman seems to be back to his best this season, enjoying a productive campaign under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after having been thrust with the responsibility of being the club’s lead striker. So far in his time with Manchester United, Martial has scored 64 goals in 208 appearances. With his best years ahead of him, that tally is ought to grow should the club keep hold of him.
He came, he saw, he conquered. Zlatan Ibrahimovic might not have been with Manchester United for a long time, but the impact that he made in a short spell will be ever-lasting. Signed for free after his contract with PSG had expired in 2016, there were a lot of questions over his signing with many feeling he might not be able to cope up with the rigours of English football at his age.
But Zlatan silenced all the naysayers and did it in some style. The iconic Swede kicked off his tenure at the club by firing them to the Community Shield triumph on his debut and then went on to score on his Premier League debut as well as his home debut at Old Trafford, soon becoming a fan favourite. The striker soon went on to become the oldest player (35y 125d) to score 15 PL goals in a single season.
Perhaps his most important performance came in the EFL Cup final against Southampton as he scored a double, including the match-winning goal, to lead United to another trophy, while he also won the Europa League trophy – the only European success in his gloried career.
A serious injury sustained towards the end of his debut season meant his future at the club was cast in doubts. But Zlatan made a strong recovery and added another goal to his Manchester United tally, before eventually leaving for LA Galaxy in March 2018. During his time, the Swede made 53 appearances for the club, bagging 29 goals and setting up 10 more. His aura, his persona will always be cherished by the supporters.